This week, the UN secretary-general introduced his policy agendas on peace, AI and the “integrity” of digital platforms, while in the Security Council, Mali told the UN to withdraw its peacekeeping mission from the country immediately.
You are reading This Week @UN, summarizing the most pressing issues before the organization. The information is gathered from UN press briefings, PassBlue reporting and other sources. This week, we published our popular Blue Smoke monthly newsletter with UNA-UK, zooming in on top UN appointments (read it and weep); an essay on the drastic plight of Afghan women judges trapped in their country; and a story on how a Black woman activist in New York State is wading into politics to help end racism.
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Monday, June 12
• Our monthly newsletter, Blue Smoke, focusing on top UN appointments, is out! Produced with UNA-UK, the June issue highlights the various UN elections that have been held in June; the shortlist for the role of UN special rapporteur on minority issues consisting solely of two white Western European men; and the machinations behind a General Assembly draft resolution for appointing UN executives.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Secretary-General António Guterres today launched his policy brief as part of the “Our Common Agenda” vision for the UN. The Information Integrity in Digital Platforms features a proposed Global Digital Compact, a New Agenda for Peace and an accord on the global governance of AI, all of which “will offer multilateral solutions based on human rights,” Guterres told reporters. He added: “The advent of generative AI must not distract us from the damage digital technology is already doing to our world. . . . Digital platforms are being misused to subvert science and spread disinformation and hate to billions of people. Some of our own UN peacekeeping missions and humanitarian aid operations have been targeted, making their work even more dangerous. This clear and present global threat demands clear and coordinated global action.” Guterres also proposes establishing an AI entity in the UN, modeled on the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) “solid-based knowledge operation,” adding that creating such an agency is up to member states. He did not say how it would be financed, especially as dozens of UN operations, including the Rome-based World Food Program, are cutting their work.
• Audrey Azoulay, the head of Unesco, based in Paris, announced that the United States had officially notified her of its decision to rejoin the organization in July 2023, “on the basis of a concrete financing plan.” The return of the US was authorized by its Congress in December 2022. The Trump administration suspended its contributions to the agency because of domestic legislation — triggered by accusations of anti-Israel bias — before fully withdrawing in 2018. (Our 2013 report on the ups and downs of the US relationship with Unesco.) The Biden administration’s move occurs amid China’s growing global influence (it is now the top donor to Unesco) and Washington’s regaining leadership in various multilateral entities of the UN. The plan includes paying dues and voluntarily providing $10 million for Unesco-sponsored Holocaust education, according to Kyodo News.
Tuesday, June 13
• Driven by a Racist Massacre in Her Hometown, This Woman Is Jumping Into Politics to Stop the Hate, by Laura E. Kirkpatrick. An activist in Buffalo, N.Y., whose son survived a mass shooting in one of the city’s supermarkets, is running for a seat on the all-male municipal council to improve the lives of Blacks in her corner of Buffalo. The article features voices of UN specialists on the prevention of genocide and racial discrimination.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres said at the start of the 16th session of the conference of states parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, held at the UN in New York City from June 13-15, that the “adoption of the Convention 17 years ago marked a landmark moment in our shared journey towards a more just and inclusive future for all.” But such progress is at “risk of reversing,” he noted, with slowdowns in improving digital accessibility, equal access to sexual and reproductive health and ensuring the “full inclusion and active participation” of people with disabilities. Gerard Quinn, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of people with disabilities, emphasized the importance of AI in the disability community, saying at the opening session: “We have to be active and present in key debates about major transformations like AI. The disability rights agenda has to be about more than reacting to particular injustices — it has to be an integral part of how humanity re-imagines its future.”
Wednesday, June 14
• Afghan Women Judges Still Trapped in the Country Desperately Need Sanctuary: In her opinion essay, Marzia Babakarkhail, an Afghan judge who fled to England, describes the plight of 68 fellow women judges stuck in Afghanistan (or in transit in Pakistan), facing death threats or other corrosive conditions. “I am in touch with all of the women judges, mostly through WhatsApp,” she writes. “I cry with them. I try to make them laugh, but they can’t laugh with me. They have no energy left for laughing. These women who have spent their careers fighting for justice for others are begging now for justice themselves.”
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), released its annual report, “Global Trends in Forced Displacement,” showing that by the end of 2022, the number of people displaced by war, persecution, violence and human-rights abuses hit a record 108 million people, up by 19.1 million people from a year earlier, an earlier record. The report tallies the latest official statistics on refugees, asylum-seekers, internally displaced and stateless people, as well as the number of refugees who have returned home. UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said that the “upward trajectory in global forced displacement showed no sign of slowing down this year as the eruption of conflict in Sudan triggered new outflows . . . pushing the global total to an estimated 110 million by May.” Of the global total, 35.3 million people were refugees, while 58 percent were displaced in their own countries because of fighting and other violence. The figures also confirmed that the world’s low- and middle-income countries host most displaced people, Dujarric added. (He noted the June 14 shipwreck off the Greek coast, killing scores of women, men and children.)
• At the UAE-led Security Council debate on “human fraternity,” which included members approving a resolution on preventing incitement and condemning hate speech and extremism, France noted its reservations to the resolution, despite its own yes vote, saying: “Let’s not be selective. How can we speak of tolerance if we suggest that only certain people and not others are worthy of tolerance?” Nicolas de Rivière, the French envoy, added, in part: “All forms of discrimination and incitement to violence must be condemned. And I mean all. All people, in all their diversity, must be able to benefit from the same protection. For this reason, France, which embodies feminist diplomacy and the defense of human rights, calls upon all member states to sign, ratify, and uphold, without exception, all international conventions guaranteeing all forms of human rights.”
• Kaha Imnadze of Georgia is the new special representative and head of the UN Regional Center for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA), succeeding Natalia Gherman of Moldova, who is now executive director of the Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate. The UNRCCA website, however, still shows Gherman as leading the entity.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres met with reporters on climate, emphasizing that the SDG and Climate Ambition summits at UN headquarters are fast approaching in September, with COP28 following in November. Limiting the rise in global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius is still possible, but it will require carbon emissions to be cut 45 percent by 2030, he said, adding: He has proposed a Climate Solidarity Pact “in which all big emitters would make extra efforts to cut emissions; and wealthier countries support emerging economies to do so.” To achieve this goal, he has also proposed an “Acceleration Agenda to supercharge these efforts,” calling on governments to commit to no new coal; complete phasing out coal by 2030 in OECD countries and by 2040 elsewhere; end all international coal funding, both public and private; end licensing or funding of new oil and gas; stop the expansion of existing oil and gas reserves and “support the just transition of the impacted developing countries.”
Friday, June 16
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The last Renamo (Mozambique National Resistance) military base has been closed in central Mozambique as part of the 2019 Maputo Accord for Peace and National Reconciliation. The closing of the 16th base “is the result of continued dialogue between Mozambican President Filipe Jacinto Nyusi and RENAMO leader Ossufo Momade, and a significant advance to consolidate peace in Mozambique,” Dujarric said. Through the work of the UN personal envoy, Mirko Manzoni, approximately 350 former combatants, including 100 women, were disarmed and demobilized in the last week. “They will now join a group of almost 5,000 former combatants who have already passed through the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process and will start their reintegration journey in communities of their choice across the country,” Dujarric added.
• At a Security Council session on Mali this morning, Dujarric described how El-Ghassim Wane, the head of the UN peacekeeping mission (Minusma), highlighted the constitutional referendum scheduled to occur on June 18. What Dujarric didn’t mention was that in the meeting, Mali’s Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop said that his government wanted Minusma to withdraw immediately because the Malian transitional leaders felt that the mission has not provided enough security to the country. Yet Diop added that the government, led by a military junta, “is ready to cooperate with the United Nations in that regard.” Reflecting the tense relationship between Minusma and Mali, the US envoy said: “It is clear that MINUSMA cannot achieve its mandate under the current conditions, and so we reiterate our rejection of ‘business as usual.'” (The mandate renewal for Minusma is June 30.) Sahelien.com’s report on Diop’s remarks in the meeting. Our report on Diop, by Joe Penney.
• Germany adopted a National Security Strategy, the first time that a “whole-of-government” plan was developed, it said. Relating to the UN, it said, among other goals: “We want to shape a free international order that respects and upholds international law, the Charter of the United Nations, the sovereign equality of states, the prohibition on the threat or use of force, the right of all peoples to self-determination, and universal human rights.”
• The UN Development Programme (UNDP) released its latest Gender Social Norms Index (GSNI) report, which “reveals no improvement in biases against women in a decade, with almost 9 out of 10 men and women worldwide still holding such biases today.” Half of people worldwide still believe men make better political leaders than women, and more than 40 percent believe men make better business executives than women, the report found, adding that 25 percent of people believe it is justified for a man to beat his wife.
• The International Center for Dialogue Initiatives‘ latest publication, on the Arab Maghreb region.
Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder, with Barbara Crossette, of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, Leimbach has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.
Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.